Every Battersea Spring edition, we dedicate space to showcasing a hand-picked selection of emerging artists in our Platform Projects exhibition. This year we’re delighted to announce that Becca Pelly-Fry, Head Curator at thriving arts and culture hub Elephant West, will be curating the exhibit! Ahead of the fair, 7 – 10 March, and amongst busy fair preparations, we sat down with her to talk about everything from her curatorial style to what she looks for when selecting emerging artists. Read on to discover what she has in store…
Tell us a bit about you! When you’re not busy being Head Curator for Elephant West what’s your favourite London past-time?
I love walking. I used to have a dog (he sadly passed away just before Christmas) and exploring the green spaces of London with him was one of my weekend joys. Apart from that: long, luxurious Sunday lunches with my friends; going to an exhibition on an off-peak day when the gallery is almost empty; finding a new and unusual cocktail bar; summer festivals in the London parks… Those are all things that make me happy to live in this incredible city.
With several years of curatorial work under your belt; what would you say your style of curation is? Is there a particular show you’ve worked on that stands out as being your personal favourite?
My style is still evolving, I think. I have quite a few different, but often intersecting, interests; on the one hand, I am very drawn to artistic practice that combines intense technical skill with rigorous conceptual clarity; on the other I am excited by bold, colourful, fun work that doesn’t take itself (or the art world) too seriously. At the moment I’m particularly interested in the meeting point between different creative practices – where music and painting might meet, for example, or theatre and film … even biochemistry and sculpture. That moment of bringing together two very different modes of thinking about and expressing the world can often create something exciting and very alive.
A personal favourite would be a series called Perfectionism that I curated for Griffin Gallery, where I was Director for just over 5 years. The current project at Elephant West, Muscle Memory, which is a collaboration between the painter Anna Liber Lewis and electronic musician Four Tet, has also been extremely interesting and rewarding to work on.
For your first Platform Projects showcase you’ve chosen the concept ‘Stop, Look, Listen, Feel’. Could you tell us a bit more about this?
For a while I’ve been recognising the lack of space for feelings and emotions in our daily lives… the steady increase in anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, particularly among young people, has lead me to think that perhaps over a number of generations we have gradually been trading physical well-being for mental instability. We live longer and more ‘healthily’ than at any previous point in history, and yet are increasingly suffering from emotional and mental health issues.
The artists that I have selected for Platform Projects are concerned with taking time to consider our immediate environment, and our place within it. Taking time to consider, even interacting physically, with each of their installations, creates a moment of reflection in which we are encouraged to stop, look, listen and feel. This relates to a number of philosophical ideas from the middle of the last century, when the world was rebuilding itself after World War II, such as the poetics of space (as written about so beautifully by Gaston Bachelard in 1957) and psychogeography (a phrase coined by Guy Debord in 1955). How we relate to our environment has never been a more urgent enquiry than it is now; as we face major issues such as global warming, environmental destabilisation and mass migration, how we navigate the next century will depend on our ability to tap back into our intuition and connection to the earth and its natural cycles.
What do you look for when selecting artists for exhibitions and projects?
There are generally three things I look for: commitment to the practice, technical ability and conceptual or intellectual rigour. On top of these, I will never work with someone I haven’t met or at least had a conversation with; personal relationships are absolutely vital to me and I have no interest at all in working with someone who doesn’t share my values, or who I don’t get along with. Life’s too short and there are too many talented artists in the world to be giving time and energy to unproductive relationships – friendship and mutual understanding always breed the best results.
As someone who has worked closely with a number of emerging artists, what’s your advice for making a mark in the contemporary art world?
Ah, the eternal question… If I knew the answer to that I would be a rich woman! The only advice I can ever give is to be true to yourself and to be confident in that self. To paraphrase Ru Paul: if you don’t believe in yourself, how the hell do you expect anyone else to believe in you?
Aside from your feature at Battersea Spring, what other exciting projects have you got lined up for 2019?
The next big project I’m curating is called Welcome Home, which opens in early September at Elephant West; it involves a group of artists and looks to explore themes around the home of the future, and how the idea of ‘home’ and the domestic might change or shift in the coming years. Amongst the four different ‘rooms’ within the installation, we will be looking at the bedroom as a secure space, safe from EMF (electro-magnetic frequencies); at the dining room as a place for female emancipation; at the home in general as a healing space where we retreat to regenerate and replenish.
To view Becca Pelly-Fry’s Platform Projects exhibition at Affordable Art Fair Battersea Spring, make sure you book your tickets now »
Scarlett Bowman, Candy (detail), acrylic on canvas, original, 51 x 41cm, £1,400.
Jeremy Knowles, 8am Walks (series) (detail), photography, edition of 5, 140cm x 100cm or 100cm x 70cm (two sizes available), £650 or £350 (according to size).
Alice Irwin, Jungle Gym (detail), screenprint on paper, original, 130 x 150cm, £1,000.